I HAVE just armed the Greeks against the Amazons; now, Penthesilea, it remains for me to arm thee against the Greeks, thee and thy valiant troop. Fight with equal resources and let the victory go to he side favoured by beloved Dione and the boy who flies over the whole world. It was not right to expose you, all defenceless as you were, to the attacks of a well-armed foe. Victory, my men, at such a price as that would be a disgrace.
But perchance one among you will say to me, “Wherefore give fresh poison to the snake, wherefore surrender the lamb to the raging wolf?” Now forbear to condemn the whole sex for the crimes of a few of its members; let every woman be judged on her own merits. If the young Alcides had reason to complain of Helen, if his elder brother could with justice accuse Clytemnestra, Helen’s sister; if, through the crime of Eriphyle, the daughter of Talaos, Amphiaraus went riding to the under-world on his living steeds, is it not also true that Penelope remained chaste when sundered from her husband who was kept for ten years fighting before Troy and who, when Troy had fallen, wandered over the seas for ten years more? Look at Laodamia, who, in order to join her husband in the grave, died long before her tale of years was told. And Alcestis, who, by sacrificing her own life, redeemed her husband, Admetus, from the tomb. “Take me in thine arms, Capaneus, and let our ashes at least be mingled,” exclaimed the daughter of Iphis, and forthwith leapt into the midst of the pyre.
Virtue is a woman both in vesture and in name; what wonder, therefore, that she should favour her own sex? Nevertheless, it is not these lofty souls that my art requires; lighter sails are suited to my pinnace. Only wanton loves are the burden of my discourse; to women I am about to teach the art of making themselves beloved.
Woman cannot resist the flames and cruel darts of love, shafts which, methinks, pierce not the heart of man so deeply. Man is ever a deceiver; woman deceives but rarely. Make a study of women, you’ll find but few unfaithful ones among them. False Jason cast off Medea when she was already a mother, and took another woman to his arms. It is no thanks to thee, O Theseus, that Ariadne, abandoned on an unknown shore, fell not a prey to the birds of the sea.
Wherefore did Phyllis return nine times to the seashore? Ask that question of the woods, who, in sorrow for her loss, shed their green raiment. Thy guest, Dido, for all his much-belauded conscience, fled from thee leaving thee nought save the sword that brought thee death. Ah, hapless ones, shall I reveal to you the cause of your undoing? You knew not how to love. You lacked the art, and art makes love endure. And even now they would still continue in their ignorance, but that Cytherea bids me instruct them. Into my presence did Cytherea come and thus she did command. “What ill, then, have they wrought thee, these unhappy women, that thou deliverest them, all defenceless as they are, into the hands of the’ men whom thou thyself hast armed? Thou hast devoted two poems to instructing men. And now the women in their turn demand thy aid. The poet who had outpoured the vials of his scorn on the wife of Menelaus, soon repented, and sang her praises in a palinode. If I know thee truly., thou art not the man to be unkind to the women. Thou wouldst rather seek to serve them so long as thou dost
live.” Thus she spake, and from the wreath that crowned her hair, she took a leaf and a few myrtle berries, the which she gave to me. As I took them, an influence divine was shed about me. The air shone purer round about me, and it seemed as though a burden had been lifted from my heart.
While Venus inspires me, my fair ones, give ear unto my counsel. Modesty and the law and your privileges permit. Bethink you, then, of old age which cometh all too soon, and not an instant will you lose. While yet you may, and while you yet enjoy the spring-time of your years, taste of the sweets of life. The years flow on like to the waters of a river. The stream that fleeteth by, never returns to the source whence it sprang. The hour that hath sped returns again no more. Make the most of your youth; youth that flies apace. Each new day that dawns is less sweet than those which went before. Here, where the land is rough with withering bracken, I have seen the violet bloom; from this thorny bush, I once did wreathe me garlands of roses. Thou who rejectest love, to-day art but a girl; but the time will come when, all alone and. old, thou wilt shiver with cold through the long dark hours in thy solitary bed. No more shall rival swains come of a night and, battling for your favours, batter down your doors; no more, of a morning, will you find your threshold strewn with roses. Ah me! How soon the wrinkles come; how swiftly fades the colour from the beauteous cheek! Those white hairs, which (so at least you swear) you had when you were quite a child, will swiftly cover all your head. The snake, when he sloughs off his skin, sloughs off the burden of his years, and the stag, when he sprouts new horns, renews his youth. But nothing brings amends for what Time filches from us. Pluck, then, the rose and lose no time, since if thou pluck it not ’twill fall forlorn and withered, of its own accord. Besides, the toil of child-bearing shortens the span of youth;
too frequent harvests make the soil wax old. Blush not, O Phœbe, that thou didst love Endymion upon the Latmian height. And Dawn, thou goddess of the rosy fingers, that thou didst bear off Cephalus, was no shame to thee Nay, though of Adonis we refrain to speak, whom Venus still doth mourn to-day, to whom, if not to love, owed she Æneas and Hermione? Follow then, ye mortal maidens, in the footsteps of these goddesses; withhold not your favours from your ardent lovers.
If they deceive you, wherein is your loss? All your charms remain; and even if a thousand should partake of them, those charms would still be unimpaired. Iron and stone will wear thin by rubbing; that precious part of you defies attrition, and you need never fear ’twill wear away. Doth a torch lose aught of its brightness by giving flame to another torch? Should we fear to take water from the mighty ocean? “A woman,” you will say, “ought not thus to give herself to a man.” Come now, why not? What does she lose? Nought but the liquid which she may take in again at will. Ah, no! I am not telling you to make drabs of yourselves; but merely not to be scared of some imaginary ill; the bestowal of such gifts will never make you poor.
But I am still within the harbour. A gentle breeze will waft me to the main. Once well out on the open sea, I shall be borne along by a stronger wind. Let me begin with dress. A well-tended vine yields a good harvest, and high stands the corn on the well-tilled field. Good looks are the gift of God; but how few can pride themselves upon their beauty. The majority of you have not been vouchsafed this favour. A careful toilet will make you attractive, but without such attention, the loveliest faces lose their charm, even were they comparable to those of the Idalian goddess herself. If the beautiful women of ancient times recked not of their appearance, the men were not a whit less careless.
[paragraph continues] If Andromache arrayed herself in a coarse tunic, why should we marvel? She was the wife of a rugged soldier. Would the wife of Ajax come richly apparelled to a warrior clad in the hides of seven oxen? In those far-off days, the ways of our forefathers were rude and simple. Rome nowadays is all ablaze with gold, rich with the wealth of the world that she hath conquered. Look at the Capitol; compare it now with what it once was. You would say it was a temple consecrated to another Jupiter. The palace of the Senate, worthy now of the august assembly that sits within it, was, in the days when Tatius was king, nothing but a thatched cottage. These gorgeous edifices on the Palatine Hill, built in honour of Apollo and our great leaders, were once but pasture ground for oxen that dragged the plough. Let others belaud those ancient times; I am satisfied to be a child of to-day. I find it better suited to my tastes, not because nowadays we ransack the bowels of the earth for gold, and import purple dyes from distant shores; not because we see the mountains shrink because we are eternally quarrying them for marble; not because vast moles keep far away the billows of the deep; but because we enjoy the amenities of life, and because those rough and boorish ways, which for a long time characterised our ancestors, have not endured to our day.
Nevertheless, burden not your ears with those sumptuous pearls which the dusky Indian seeks beneath the green waves. Go not forth in garments heavily inwrought with gold. The wealth by which you would fain attract us, very often just repels us. Neatness is what we like. Let your hair be nicely done. That depends greatly on the skill of the person that dresses it. Of course there are innumerable ways of doing it. Every woman should study to find out the style that suits her best; and for that her mirror is the surest guide! Long features demand that the hair should be simply parted
on the forehead. Such was the style of Laodamia. Women with round faces should wear their hair lightly twisted into a knot on the top of the head, leaving the ears exposed. One woman will let her hair fall loose on either shoulder, like Apollo when he holds his dulcet lyre. Another must needs have her hair tied up behind, like Diana when she pursueth the wild beasts in the forests. One delights us with her loose flowing ringlets, another by wearing her hair closely patted down upon her temples. Some women like to adorn their hair with the shell of the Cyllenian tortoise, others to wear it in towering waves. But there are not more acorns on an oak tree, more bees on Hybla, or wild beasts on the mountains, than there are modes of doing a woman’s hair, and new ones are invented every day. Some women look well with their hair done in careless fashion: you might think it hadn’t been done since yesterday. In point of fact it has only just been combed. Artifice should look like carelessness. Such was Iole when Hercules first saw her in the captured city. “That is the woman for me,” he exclaimed. Such, too, was Ariadne, forsaken on the shores of Naxos, when Bacchus bore her away in his chariot, while the Satyrs cried, “Evoë” Ah, you women! Nature, kindly toward your charms, has given you how many means to repair the ravages of time! We men, alas, grow bald. Our hair, of which time robs us, falls even as the leaves when the North wind brings them down. A woman will dye her hair with the juice of some German herb; and the artificial colour becomes her better than the natural one. A woman will appear wearing a mass of hair that she has just purchased. For a little money she can buy another’s tresses. She’ll do the deal without a blush, quite openly, in front of Hercules and the Virgin band.
Now what shall I say about clothes? I care not for those golden flounces, or wool twice dipped in Tyrian purple? There are so many other colours that cost
less money. Why carry all your fortune on your back? Look at this azure blue like a clear sky when the wind has ceased to herd the rain clouds from the South. Now look, too, at this golden yellow; ’tis the colour of the ram which once on a time saved Phryxus and Helle from the snares of Ino. That green is called water-green from the colour that it imitates; I could easily imagine that the Nymphs were clothed in such apparel. This hue resembles saffron; it is the colour wherein. Aurora arrays herself when, moist with dew, she yokes her shining coursers to her car. There you will recognise the colour of the myrtle of Paphos; here the purple amethyst, the whitening rose, or the Thracian stork; and here again the colour of thy chestnuts, Amaryllis, or thy almonds, or the colour of that stuff to which wax has given its name. As numerous as the flowers which blow when sluggish Winter hath departed, and when beneath the Spring’s soft breath, the vine puts forth its buds, so many and more are the hues that wool receives from all its many dyes. Choose then with care, for all colours are not becoming to all people. Black suits a fair complexion: it became Briseis; she was dressed in black when she was carried off. White suits dark people; white, Andromeda, set off your charms, and ’twas white that you were wearing when you set foot on the isle of Seriphos.
I was going to tell you not to let your armpits smell, and to see that your legs were not rough with bristles. But it’s not, of course, to the coarse Caucasian women I am addressing my remarks, nor yet to the women who drink the waters of the Caicus. I need not tell you never to neglect to keep your teeth white and to rinse your mouth out every morning with clean water. With wax you know how to whiten your skin, and with carmine to give yourself the rosy hue which Nature has denied you. Your art will tell you how to fill the space between your eyebrows, if it be too, faintly marked, and how,
with cosmetics, to conceal the all too patent evidence of the growing years. You fear not to increase the brightness of your eyes with finely powdered ash, or with the saffron that grows on the banks of the Cydnus. I have told of the ways of restoring beauty in a work, which though slender, is of great value by reason of the studied care with which I wrote it. Consult it for the remedies you need, all you young women on whom Nature has not lavished her favours. You will find my treatise abounds in useful counsel.
But on no account let your lover find you with a lot of “aids to beauty” boxes about you. The art that adorns you should be unsuspected. Who but would feel a sensation of disgust if the paint on your face were so thick that it oozed down on to your breasts? What words could describe the sickening smell of the œsypum although it comes from Athens; that oily juice which they extract from the fleece of sheep. I should also disapprove of your using stag’s marrow, or of your cleaning your teeth when anyone is there to see. I know all that would enhance your charms, but the sight would be none the less disagreeable. How many things revolt us in the process, which delight us in the achievement. Those famous masterpieces of the sculptor Myron were once but useless, shapeless blocks of marble. If you want a ring of gold, you’ve got to hammer it into shape; the material you wear was once dirty, evil-smelling wool. That marble, once an unhewn block, is now a masterpiece–Venus, naked, wringing the water from her dripping hair. Let your servants tell us you are still asleep, if we arrive before your toilet’s finished. You will appear all the lovelier when you’ve put on the finishing touch. Why should I know what it is that makes your skin so white? Keep your door shut, and don’t let me see the work before it’s finished. There are a whole host of things we men should know nothing about. Most of these various artifices would give us a
nasty turn, if you didn’t take care not to let us see them. Look at those brilliant ornaments that adorn the stage. If you examined them closely, you would see that they are merely gilded wood. None of the audience are allowed to go near till everything is finished and in order. Just in the same way, it’s only when the men are away that you ought to do your titivating.
Howbeit, I do not b any means forbid you to comb your hair before us; I love to see it fall in floating tresses about your shoulders. But never get vexed or petulant, and don’t keep on fidgeting with your curls. Don’t treat your maid so as to make her in terror of you. I detest the sort of shrew that scratches her maid’s face, or sticks a needle in her arm, in a fit of temper. It makes the poor girl wish the devil would take the head she is holding between her hands, and with blood and tears she moistens her mistress’s hateful tresses. Every woman who has but little hair should have a sentinel at her door, or else always have her hair attended to in the temple of the Bona Dea. One day I was announced unexpectedly to my mistress, and in her flurry she put on her false hair all awry. May such a mischance never befall any but our enemies! May such a disgrace be reserved for the daughters of the Parthians. A mutilated animal, a barren field, a leafless tree are hideous things to see: a bald head is not less so.
’Tis not to you, Semele or Leda, that I address my lessons, nor to thee, O fair Sidonian, who wast borne by a fictitious bull across the seas; nor yet to Helen whom thou with reason, Menelaus, didst demand, and whom thou, her ravisher, did with equal reason refuse to give up. My host of pupils is composed of fair women and of plain, and these latter always outnumber the rest. The pretty ones are less in need of art’s assistance and take its admonitions less to heart; they are the fortunate possessors of charms whose potency owes nought to art. When the sea is calm, the mariner
lays him down to rest in careless ease; when the tempest sets it on a roar, he quits not his station even for an instant.
Rare, however, is the face without a fault. Hide these blemishes with care, and so far as may be, conceal the defects of your figure. If you are short, sit down, lest when standing you should be thought to be sitting; if you are a dwarf, lie stretched at full length on your couch, and so that none may see how short you are, throw something over your feet to hide them. If you are thin, wear dresses of thick material and have a mantle hanging loosely about your shoulders. If you are sallow, put on a little rouge; if you are swarthy, see what the fish of Pharos will do for you. Let an ungainly foot be hid in a white leathern shoe. If your legs are thin, don’t be seen unlacing your sandals. If your shoulder-blades are prominent, little pads will correct the defect. If you have too full a bust, contain it with a brassière. If your fingers are stumpy and your nails unsightly, don’t gesticulate when you are talking. If your breath is strong, you should never talk when your stomach’s empty, and always keep some distance away from your lover. A woman whose teeth are discoloured, or prominent, or uneven, will often give herself away when she laughs. Who would imagine it? Women are even taught how to laugh. Even in such a detail as that, they study to be charming. Don’t open your mouth too wide; let the dimples on either side be small, and let the extremity of the lips cover the upper part of the teeth. Don’t laugh too often and too loud. Let there be something feminine and gentle in your laughter, something agreeable to the ear. Some women cannot laugh without making a hideous grimace; others try to show how pleased they are, and you would imagine they were crying; others offend the car with harsh and ugly sounds; like the noise a dirty old she-ass makes as she brays at the mill-stone.
Where indeed does Art not have a say! Why, women
even learn to weep gracefully; to cry when they will, and as much as they will. And then there are women who don’t pronounce a certain letter in their words, and lisp with affectation when they come to it. This assumed defect lends them an added charm; so they actually practise speaking imperfectly. All these, are details, but, since they have their uses, practise them assiduously. Learn also how to walk as a woman should. There is a style in walking that should be carefully cultivated; and that style, or the lack of it, will often attract or repel a stranger. This woman, for example, walks with an elegant swing from the hips; her gown floats gracefully in the breeze, and she moves with dignity and charm. And here again is a woman who elbows her way along with huge strides like the red-faced wife of an Umbrian peasant. But in this matter of walking, as in everything else, we must have a sense of proportion. One woman will walk too much like a country wench, another with over-much mincing and affectation. Then, again, you should leave uncovered the top of your shoulder and the upper part of your left arm. That is especially becoming to women who have a white skin. At the mere sight of it, I should be mad to cover all I could touch with kisses.
The Sirens were monsters of the deep, and, with their wondrous singing, stayed the swiftest vessels in their flight. When their song fell upon his ears, Ulysses was sore tempted to unbind himself from the mast; as for his companions, their ears were stopped with wax. Music is a soothing thing. Women should learn to sing. Many a woman has made up for her lack of beauty by the sweetness of her voice. Sometimes sing over the songs you have heard at the theatre; sometimes sing voluptuous, Oriental airs. A woman, who is fain to attract, should know how to play the lute and the harp. Thracian Orpheus, with his lyre, charmed rocks and wild beasts, aye, and Acheron and the triple-headed
[paragraph continues] Cerberus. And thou, Amphion, righteous avenger of thy mother’s wrong, didst thou not behold stones rise up at the sound of thy voice and range themselves into walls? Who has not heard of the wonders wrought by Arion with his lyre? Even the dumb fish is said to have listened, enchanted, to his song. Learn, too, to sweep the strings of the joyous psaltery with either hand. ’Tis an instrument favourable to the dalliance of lovers. You should also learn Callimachus by heart, and Philetas and Anacreon, who loved his drop of wine. And Sappho too; for what is more exciting than her verse? Then there’s the poet who tells us about a father being hoodwinked by the crafty Geta. You might also read the verses of the tender-souled Propertius, and the poems of my beloved Tibullus, and something out of Gallus, or the poem Varro wrote about the golden fleece so bitterly lamented, Phrixus, by thy sister; and the story of the fugitive, Æneas, and the origins of lofty Rome; for Latium boasts no prouder masterpiece than that. And peradventure shall my name with theirs be numbered, and my writings shall not be given over to the waters of Lethe, and perchance someone will say, “Read o’er these dainty lines wherein our Master gives instruction both to men and women; or choose, in those three books, the which he calls the Loves, passages which you will read with sweetly modulated voice; or, if thou wilt, declaim with skill one of those letters from his Heroines, a kind of work unknown before his time and whereof he himself was the inventor.” Hear my prayers, O Phœbus, hear them, mighty Bacchus, and you, ye Muses, divine protectresses of poets.
Who could doubt that I want my charmer to be skilled in the dance? I would that, when the wine-cup is placed upon the table, she should be accomplished in swaying her arms to the measure of the music. Graceful dancers delight your theatre-goer. Such grace, such airy lightness, charms us all.
I am loth to enter into petty details, but I should like my pupil to know how to throw the dice with skill, and to calculate with nicety the impetus she gives them as she tosses them on to the table. I should like her to know when to throw the three numbers, and when to take and when to call. I should wish her to play chess with skill and caution. One piece against two is bound to go under. A king that is battling, separated from his queen is liable to be taken; and his rival is often compelled to retrace his steps. Again, when the ball bounces against the broad racquet, you must only touch the one you intend to serve. There is another game divided into as many parts as there are months in the year. A table has three pieces on either side; the winner must get all the pieces in a straight line. It is a bad thing for a woman not to know how to play, for love often comes into being during play.
Still, it is only half the battle merely to play well; the important thing is to be master of yourself. Sometimes, when we are not properly on our guard, when we are carried away by the heat of the game, we forget ourselves and let our inmost nature stand revealed. Rage and love of gain, such are the shameful vices that lay hold on us; thence spring quarrels, brawls and vain regrets. Hot words are bandied to and fro; the air resounds with angry shouts, and each one calls in turn on the wrathful gods for help. Then no player trusts another: “The pieces have been tampered with,” they cry; and to have fresh ones they insist; and many a time, I’ve seen their faces bathed with tears. May Jove preserve us from tantrums such as that, any woman who aims at pleasing us.
Such are the games which kindly Nature to your weakness doth vouchsafe. To man she opens forth an ampler field: to him the flying ball, the spear, the quoit and, daring feats of horsemanship. You are not made to strive in contests on the field of Mars, or to
plunge into the icy waters of the Virgin’s spring, or into the tranquil current of the Tiber. But you may, and you would do well to do so, walk in the shade of Pompey’s Portico when the fiery coursers of the Sun are entering the constellation of Virgo. Visit the temple sacred to Apollo, to the god whose brow is decked with the laurel, and who, at Actium, whelmed the Egyptian fleet beneath the wave; visit those stately buildings raised by the sister and wife of Augustus, and his son-in-law decorated with the naval crown. Draw near to the altars where incense is offered to the sacred cow of Memphis; visit our three theatres, splendid places for displaying your attractions; go to the arena still warm with blood new-shed, and that goal round which the chariots whirl with fiery wheel.
Things that are hidden no one heeds, and none desires what he has never known. What avails a beautiful face if none be there to see it? Even though you should sing songs more sweet than the songs of Thamyras and Amœbeus, who would praise the merits of your lyre, if there were none to hear it? If Apelles, of Cos, had not given us his vision of Venus, the goddess would still be buried beneath the waves. What does the poet long for? He longs for fame. That is the guerdon we look for to crown our toil. Time was when poets were the favourites of heroes and of kings, and in ancient days a choir of singers gained a rich reward. Hallowed was the dignity and venerable the name of Poet, and upon them great riches were often bestowed. Ennius, born in the mountains of Calabria, was deemed worthy of being buried nigh to thee, great Scipio. But now the poet’s crown of ivy lies unhonoured, and they, who through the hours of night do strictly meditate the Muse, are idlers held. Howbeit, they strive, and love to strive, for fame. Who would have heard of Homer if the Iliad–the deathless Iliad–had never seen the light? Who would have known Danaë if, for ever a
prisoner, she had languished till old age came upon her in her tower?
You, my fair young charmers, will do well to mingle with the throng; bend your roaming footsteps full oft beyond your thresholds. The she-wolf has her eye on many a sheep before she selects her prey; the eagle pursues more birds than one. Thus a pretty girl should show herself in public. In the throng there is perhaps one lover in whom her charms will strike an answering chord. Wherever she be, let her show herself eager to please, and let her be mindful of everything that could enhance her charms. You never know when a chance may occur. Always have the bait ready. The fish will come and bite when you least expect it. It often happens that the dogs scour the woods and hills in vain, and then the stag comes of his own accord, and steps into the net. When Andromeda was chained to her rock, how was she to hope that anyone should have compassion on her tears? Often a new husband is discovered at the old one’s funeral: nothing makes a woman so alluring as to walk with dishevelled hair and let her tears flow unrestrainedly.
But avoid the man that makes a parade of his clothes and his good looks, and is on the tenterhooks lest his hair should get ruffled. The sort of thing such men will tell you, they’ve said over and over again to other women. They’re of the roving sort and never settle anywhere. What can a woman do when a man is more of a woman than she is, and perhaps has a bigger following of lovers? Perhaps you won’t believe this, and yet it’s perfectly true: Troy would still be standing, if the Trojans had listened to old Priam’s advice. There are men who get on good terms with women by making out they love them; and having done so, proceed disgracefully to fleece them. Don’t be taken in by their scented locks, their dandified clothes, their affected æstheticism, and their much-beringed fingers. Perhaps the smartest of
all these fine gentlemen is nothing but a crook, whose sole aim is to rob you of your fine clothes. “Give me back my property,” is the burden of many a poor woman’s complaint, whom some such ruffian has taken in. “Give me back my property,” is what you are always hearing in every court of justice. And you, O Venus, and you, ye goddesses, whose temples grace the Appian Way, look down upon the scene unmoved. And some there are among these rakes, whose reputation is so blown upon, that any women who are taken in by them deserve no sympathy.
Women, learn, from the misfortunes of others, how to avoid a similar fate, and never let your door give admittance to a swindler. Beware, ye daughters of Cecrops, of paying heed to the protestations of Theseus! It wouldn’t be the first time he had taken his solemn oath to a lie. And you, Demophoön, who inherited Theseus’ gift for lying, how can we trust you, seeing how you broke your vows to Phyllis! If, my dears, your lovers bring you glittering promises, do the like to them; if they bring you presents, let them have the favours they have bargained for. A woman who, after receiving presents from her lover, withholds from him the pleasure that he has a right to, would be capable of extinguishing Vesta’s eternal flame, of stealing the sacred vessels from the temple of Inachus, and of sending her husband to his last account with a glass of aconite and hemlock.
But come now, where am I getting to? Come, my Muse, draw in your reins a little’ lest your steeds carry me beyond my goal. When your lover has paved the way with a brief note or two, and when your wide-awake maid has duly received and delivered them, read them over very carefully, weigh every word, and try to find out whether his love is merely pretence or whether he really means what he says. Don’t be in too great a hurry to answer him; suspense, if it be not too prolonged,
acts as a spur to love. Don’t appear too accommodating to him, if he’s a youngster; on the other hand, don’t rap him too severely over the knuckles. Act in such a way as to instil him at once with hope and fear, and every time you say ” No,” make him think he’ll have a better chance next time. What you write him should be ladylike, but simple and direct. Ordinary, unaffected language pleases the most. It often happens that a letter gives the necessary impulse to a hesitating heart; and how often too has some clumsy uncouth utterance completely neutralised a girl’s good looks.
But you women who, though you don’t aim at the honours of chastity, want to cuckold your husbands without their knowing it, be sure not to send your letters by any but a trusty hand. On no account send these evidences of your passion to an inexperienced lover. For failing to observe this precaution, I have seen young married women white with fear and spending their unhappy days in a condition of continuous slavery.
Doubtless it is a shame for a man to keep such damning proofs; but they put into his hands weapons as terrible as the fires of Etna. In my idea, deceit should be countered by deceit, just as the law allows us to repel violence by violence. You should practise varying your handwriting as much as possible. Foul fall the knaves that compel me to give you such advice. And you should be sure and not write on a tablet that has been used, without making quite sure that the original writing has been quite rubbed out, lest the wax should give evidence of two different hands. The letters you write to your lover should be addressed as though to a woman, and you should always allude to him as she, her.
But let us leave these minor details for graver subjects; let us cram on all sail. If you want to retain your good looks, you must restrain your temper. Peace, gentle peace, is the attribute of man, as rage and fury are the characteristics of wild beasts. Rage puffs out
the face, gorges the veins with blood, and kindles in the eye the fiery fury of the Gorgon. “Away with thee, miserable flute, thou deservest not that I should spoil my beauty for thee,” said Pallas, when in the stream she beheld her distorted visage. And so with you. If any of you women looked at yourselves in the glass when you were in a raging temper, you wouldn’t know yourselves, not one of you! Another thing, just as unbecoming, is pride. You must have a soft, appealing expression, if you want to attract a lover. Believe an old hand at the game. A haughty, disdainful look puts a man out of tune at once, and sometimes, even though a woman doesn’t say a word, her countenance betrays something hostile and disagreeable. Look at whoever looks at you; smile back when you’re smiled at; if anyone makes signs to you, send back an answering signal. ’Tis thus that love, after making essay with harmless arrows, draws from his quiver his pointed darts. We also dislike gloomy women. Let Ajax love his Tecmessa. We are a jovial company, and we like a woman to be gay. As for you, Andromache, and you, Tecmessa, I should never have wanted either of you for a mistress; and beyond mere child-getting, I doubt whether your husbands sought, or found, any great pleasure within your arms. How can we imagine so dreary a woman as Tecmessa ever saying to Ajax, “O Light of my life,” and all those other sweet things that charm us and console.
Let me be suffered to illustrate my own gay trifling art with examples from a much more serious affair. Let me compare it to the tactics of a general commanding an army. A leader that knows his business will entrust, to one officer the command of a hundred infantrymen, to another a squadron of cavalry, to another, the standards. Now you women should consider in what respect we can serve you best, and assign to each of us his special part. If a man’s rich, make
him give you presents; let the legal luminary give you his professional advice; let the eloquent barrister plead his lovely client’s cause. As for us poets, we’ve got nothing to offer you but our verses; but what we can do better than the rest of them is to love, and we spread far and wide the renown of the charmer that has succeeded in captivating us. Nemesis and Cynthia are famous names; Lycoris from East to West is known, and now on every hand they want to know who is this Corinna that I sing about. Perjury is hateful to a poet, and poetry too is a great factor in the making of a gentleman. Ambition, love of riches, these things torment us not; we reck not of the Forum and its triumphs; all we seek is seclusion and repose. Love is swift to take hold of us and burns us with its fiercest flame, and into our love, alas, we put over-much of trust and confidence.
The peaceful art which we pursue lends a softness to our manners, and our mode of life is consonant with our work. My fair ones, never withhold your favours, from the poets; the gods inspire them and the Muses smile upon them. Ay, a god dwells within us and we commerce with the skies. From the high heavens doth our inspiration come. How shameful to expect hard cash from a poet; yet it’s a shame no pretty woman is afraid to incur.
Learn how to dissemble, and don’t display your avarice all at once. Mind you don’t lose a fresh lover when he realises the trap you are laying for him. A skilful groom doesn’t treat a colt just broken like a horse that has grown used to harness. In the same way, you won’t catch a novice with the same snare as you use for a veteran. The one, a new recruit, is fighting for the first time in his life beneath the standards of love; he has never before been captured, and now that you have snared him, you must let him know none but you. He is like a young sapling, and you must surround him with a lofty fence. Be sure to keep all possible rivals out of
the way. You will only retain your conquest if you share it with no one. Love’s dominion, like a king’s, admits of no partition. So much for the novice. The other is an old campaigner. His pace is slower and more deliberate. He will endure many things that a raw recruit could never stand. He won’t come battering in or burning down your front door. He won’t scratch and tear his sweetheart’s dainty check till the blood comes. He won’t rend his garments, or hers either; he won’t pull her hair out and make her cry. Such tantrums as that are only permitted in youngsters, in the heyday of youth and heat. But your older man is not a bit like that. He’ll put up with all manner of snubs. He smoulders with a small fire like a damp torch or like green wood fresh hewn on the mountain top. His love is more sure; the other’s is more blithe, but it doesn’t last so long. Be quick and pluck the fleeting blossom. Well, let us surrender the whole stronghold, lock, stock, and barrel. The gates have been flung open to the besiegers. Let them be easy in their minds. The traitor won’t betray them. Now if too soon you yield, too soon you’ll lose your love. Denials must be sometimes mingled with dalliance. You must sometimes keep your lover begging and praying and threatening before your door. Sweet things are bad for us. Bitters are the best tonic for the jaded appetite. More than one ship has sailed to perdition with a following wind. What makes men indifferent to their wives is that they can see them when they please. So shut your door and let your surly porter growl, “There’s no admittance here!” This will renew the slumbering fires of love.
Now let us take the buttons off the foils, and to it with naked weapons; though, likely enough, I am instructing you for my own undoing. When you have netted your youthful novice, let him, at first, imagine he’s the only one to enjoy your favours. But soon let
him apprehend a rival. Let him think there’s someone else with whom he has to share your charms. Some such tricks as these are needed, or his ardour would soon die down. A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace. A slight gives a new life to our dying flame, and I confess that, for my own part, I couldn’t go on loving unless I had a set-back to endure from time to time. But don’t let him see so very much. Make him uneasy, and let him fear there’s something more than just what meets his eye,. Tell him that some imaginary servant always has his plaguey eye upon you. Tell him your husband’s green with jealousy and always on the prowl. That will stimulate his ardour. A safe pleasure is a tame pleasure. Even if you were as free to have your fling as Thaïs, trump up some imaginary fears. When it would be easier for you to have him admitted by the door, insist on his climbing in at a window, and put on a scared expression when he looks at you. Then let some smart maid come rushing in crying, “We’re ruined,” and thrust him, trembling, into a cupboard. But sometimes let him have his pleasure of you undisturbed, lest he begin to ask himself whether the game is wholly worth the candle.
I was not going to touch on the methods of hood winking a cunning husband and a watchful guard. A wife should fear her husband; she should be well looked after; that is quite as it should be; law, equity, decency–all require it so. But that you should have to put up with such servitude, you who have just been freed by the Lictor’s rod, that would be intolerable. Come to me, and I’ll initiate you into the secret of giving them the slip. If you had as many warders as Argus had eyes, you shall, if you really are resolved, evade them all. For example, how is your warder going to hinder you from writing, during the time you’re supposed to be in your bath? Is he going to prevent a servant who is in your
secrets and aids you in your amours from carrying your missives in her bosom under a wide shawl? Couldn’t she stuff them in her stocking, or hide them under the sole of her foot? But suppose your warder checkmates all these subterfuges, let your confidante make her shoulders your tablets, and let her body become a living letter. Characters written in fresh milk are a well-known means of secret communication. Touch them with a little powdered charcoal and you will read them. You may also do likewise with a stalk of green flax, and your tablets will, unsuspected, take the invisible imprint of what you write. Acrisius did everything he could think of to keep Danaë intact. Yet Danaë did what she should not have done, and made a grandsire of him. What can a woman’s keeper do when there are so many theatres in Rome, when she can go sometimes to a chariot race, sometimes to religious celebrations where men are not allowed to show their faces? When the Bona Dea turns away from her temples all men save, perchance, a few whom she has bidden to come; when the unhappy keeper has to keep an eye on his mistress’s clothes outside the baths, in which, maybe, men are securely hiding? And whenever she wants, some friend and accomplice will say she’s sick, and for all her illness accommodate her with the loan of her bed. Then, tool the name of “adulterous” given to a duplicate key tells plainly enough the use to which we ought to put it. Nor is the door the only way to get into a woman’s house. You can get the keeper under, however prying he may be, by giving him a good stiff drink; an even if you have to give him Spanish Wine, it’s worth it. There are also potions that induce sleep and cloud the brain with a darkness as heavy as Lethean night. And your accomplice may usefully entice the pestilent fellow to hope for her favours, and by soft dalliance make him oblivious of the fleeting hours.
But why should I teach you these tedious and minute
devices when the man may be bought for a trifling tip. Presents, believe me, seduce both men and gods. Jove himself is not above accepting a present. What will the wise man do, when a very fool knows the value of a gift? A present will even shut the husband’s mouth. But only tip the keeper once a year. When he’s held out his hand once, he’ll be holding it out for ever. I lately complained, I remember, that one must beware of one’s friends. That unwelcome statement was not addressed solely to men. If you are too confiding, others will win the quarry that belonged to you and someone else will net the hare that you had started. That very kind friend, who lends you her room and her bed, has more than once been on excessively friendly terms there with your lover. And don’t have too pretty servant-maids about you either. More than one maid has played her mistress’s part for me.
Oh, what a fool I am! Why do I let my tongue run away with me like that? Why do I offer my naked bosom to be pierced? Why do I betray myself? The bird doesn’t tell the fowler the way to snare her. The hind does not train the hounds to hunt her. No matter; if only I can be of service, I will loyally continue to impart my lessons, even if it means another Lemnian outrage. Act then, my dears, in such a way as to make us think you love us; there’s nothing easier, for a man readily believes what he wants to believe. Look on a man seductively; keep sighing deeply; ask him why he’s been so long in coming; make out you’re jealous; sham indignation; look as if you’re weeping, and even scratch his face for him. He’ll very soon believe that you adore him, and as he looks upon your sufferings he’ll exclaim, The woman’s simply mad about me!” especially if he’s a coxcomb and thinks that even a goddess would fall in love with him. But if he doesn’t run quite straight himself, don’t, whatever you do, put yourself out too much about it. Don’t go and lose
your head if you hear that you are not the only pebble on the beach. And don’t be in too much of a hurry to believe everything you hear. Think of Procris, and be warned by he, how dangerous it is to be too credulous.
Nigh the soft slopes of flowery Hymettus is a hallowed fount whose lips are fledged with tender green; and all around low-growing shrubs form not so much a wood, a, a woodland brake; there the ‘arbutus offers a kindly shelter; rosemary and laurel and the dark-leaved myrtle shed their perfume far and wide – there likewise grow the thick-leaved box, the fragile tamarisk, the humble clover and the soaring pine. The leaves of all these divers trees and plants and the tips of the blades of grass, tremble in the ‘breeze, set a-dance by the soft breath of the zephyrs. Hither young Cephalus, leaving his comrades and his dogs would often come to rest his limbs o’erwearied with the chase; and here, he oft would say “Come, gentle Zephyr, steal into my breast and cool the heat wherewith I am opprest.” It happened once some busybody heard him and must needs report these harmless words unto his anxious spouse. Procris no sooner heard this name of Zephyr than, deeming Zephyr was some rival, she was stricken dumb with grief and fell into a swoon. Pale was she, pale as those belated clusters which, when the wine-harvest is over, whiten at the first touch of frost, or like those ripe quinces which bend down the branches with their weight, or like the wild cherry ere yet it is ripe enough for our tables. As soon as she came to herself, she rent the flimsy garments that covered her bosom and scored her face with her nails. Then swift as lightning, in a tempest of fury, her hair flying in the wind, she tore across the country like some fierce Mænad. When she reached the fatal spot, she left her companions in the valley, and treading stealthily made her way boldly into the forest. What deed, O senseless Procris, dost thou meditate, hiding thyself thus? What fatal resolution
arms thy distracted heart? Doubtless thou thinkest thou wilt see Zephyr, thine unknown rival, come upon the scene; thou thinkest with thine eyes to witness the unconscionable scene. Now dost thou repent thee of thy deed. For ’twere horror to surprise the guilty pair. Now dost thou glory in thy rashness. Love tortures thee and tosses thy bosom this way and that. All explains and excuses thy credulity. the place, the name, the story told thee, and that fatal gift that lovers have for believing that their fears are true. As soon as she saw the trampled grass and the print of recent footsteps, her heart beat faster than ever.
Already the noontide sun had curtailed the shadows and looked down at equal distances upon the East and West, when Cephalus, the son of the Cyllenian god, comes to the forest and bathes his face in the cool waters of a spring. Hidden close at hand, Procris, torn with suspense, gazes at him unseen. She sees him lie on the accustomed sward and hears him cry, “Come, thou sweet Zephyr, come thou cooling breeze.” O what a joyful surprise is hers; she sees her error, and how a name had led her mind astray. Once more she is herself. Her wonted colour comes again; she rises to her feet and longs to fling herself into her husband’s arms. But as she rises, she makes a rustling in the leaves. Cephalus, thinking it some wild creature of the woods, quickly seizes his bow, and even now he holds in his hands the fatal shaft. What, O hapless one, art thou about to do? ’Tis no wild animal . . . stay thy hand! Alas, it is too late; thy wife lies low, pierced by the arrow thou thyself hast sped! “Alas, alas ” she cried. “Thou has stricken the breast of one who loved thee. And now that Zephyr, who did cause me so to err, bears away my spirit in the breeze. Ah me, I die . . . at least let thy beloved hand close my eyelids.” Cephalus, distraught with grief, bears in his arms his dying loved one, and with his tears doth bathe her cruel wound.
[paragraph continues] Little by little the soul of rash Procris ebbs from her bosom, and Cephalus, his lips pressed close to hers, receives her during breath.
But let us pursue our voyage and, so that our wearied bark may reach the haven at last, let us have done with illustrations and speak straight to the point. No doubt you are expecting me to conduct you to banquets, and you would like me to tell you what I have to teach you thereupon. Don’t come too soon, and don’t show all your graces till the torches are alight. Venus likes delay; and waiting lends an added value to your charms. Even if you were plain, eyes dimmed by wine would think you beautiful, and night would fling a veil over your imperfections. Take the food with the tips of your fingers; and you must know that eating is itself an art. Take care to wipe your hand, and don’t leave dirty finger-marks about your mouth. Don’t eat before meals when you are at home; and when you are at table, learn to be moderate and to eat a little less than you feel inclined to. If the son of Priam had seen Helen eating like a glutton, he would have taken to hating her. “What a fool I was,” he would have said, “to have carried off such a thing as that!” It were better for a young woman to drink, rather than to eat, too freely. Love and wine go very well together. However, don’t drink more than your head will stand. Don’t lose the use of your head and feet; and never see two things when only one is there. It’s a horrible thing to see a woman really drunk. When she’s in that state, she deserves to be had by the first comer. When once she’s at table, a woman should not drop off to sleep. A sleeping woman is a whoreson temptation to a man to transgress the bounds of modesty.
I am ashamed to proceed, but Venus whispers encouragingly in my ear. “What you blush to tell,” says she, “is the most important part of the whole matter.” Let every woman, then, learn to know herself, and to
enter upon love’s battle in the pose best suited to her charms. If a woman has a lovely face, let her lie upon her back; if she prides herself upon her hips let her display them to the best advantage. Melanion bore Atalanta’s legs upon his shoulders; if your legs are as beautiful as hers, put them in the same position. If you are short, let your lover be the steed. Andromache, who was as tall as an Amazon, never comported herself like that with Hector. A woman, who is conspicuously tall, should kneel with her head turned slightly sideways. If your thighs are still lovely with the charm of youth, if your bosom is without a flaw, lie aslant upon your couch; and think it not a shame to let your hair float unbraided about your shoulders. If the labours of Lucina have left their mark upon you, then, like the swift Parthian, turn your back to the fray. Love has a thousand postures; the simplest and the least fatiguing is to lie on your right side.
Never did the shrine of Phœbus Apollo, never did Jupiter Ammon, deliver surer oracles than the sayings chanted by my Muse. If the art which I so long have practised has aught of worth in it, then list to me; my words will not deceive you. So, then, my dear ones, feel the pleasure in the very marrow of your bones; share it fairly with your lover, say pleasant, naughty things the while. And if Nature has withheld from you the sensation of pleasure, then teach your lips to lie and say you feel it all. Unhappy is the woman who feels no answering thrill. But, if you have to pretend, don’t betray yourself by over-acting. Let your movements and your eyes combine to deceive us, and, gasping, panting, complete the illusion. Alas that the temple of bliss should have its secrets and mysteries. A woman who, after enjoying the delights of love, asks for payment from her lover, cannot surely but be joking. Don’t let the light in your bedroom be too bright; there are many things about a woman that are best seen in
the dimness of twilight. Now, there, I’ve done; my pleasant task is o’er. Unyoke, for surely ’tis high time, the swans that have been harnessed this long while unto my car. And now, my fair young pupils, do as your youthful lovers did awhile ago; upon your trophies write, “Ovid was our master.”